The blocks immediately surrounding Albuquerque’s oldest parish church (Iglesia de San Felipe de Neri, est. 1706, rebuilt in 1793) are known simply as Old Town. The small, gazebo-centered plaza and surrounding streets are charming and, if you want to believe visitalbuquerque.com, are actually “the cultural center” of the city. In all honesty I don’t buy it. Old Town, before the tourist boom facilitated by a certain TV show about a decade back, was pretty much the one stop visitors would make here in the Duke City before heading north. At least outside of Balloon Fiesta season. And as much as I enjoy passing through, I haven’t spent much time strolling Old Town since my last field trip there in sixth grade. That said, nine months into this pandemic, I masked up and went for a stroll in Old Town. I saw no obvious tourists. Few businesses were open.
Walking through flurries of snow, I passed by closed “trading posts” (a few declare that they are Native-owned) before arriving at Tiny Grocer on 422 San Felipe NW. The name is no misnomer. Squeezed into a space no larger than a kitchenette is an impressively curated array of local goods and foodstuffs.
Pretty much every product on offer, from the kombucha to the sopaipilla mix, is from New Mexico. Sure, there are a few outliers. Some of their lamb and beef is from Southern Colorado (if you ask me, Pueblo and south ought to be part of our state anyway), and some staples like TP are obviously imports. Despite the shop’s size, I found myself overwhelmed by gift ideas: osha honey from Dixon, green chile cheese curds from Bosque Farms, blue corn atole from Valencia Mills and a prickly pear jam. While a tourist could certainly put together a gift basket fit for any gourmand back home, I think locals will also see the charm in this place, walking out with a fresh scone, a latte and perhaps a thoughtful gift. Due to COVID safety precautions, Tiny Grocer may only serve a single customer at a time, but this time of year it deserves to have a line stretching down the block.
Visit oldtownherbal.com/tiny-grocer-abq/ for a complete list of local businesses whose goods are on offer at Tiny Grocer.
Alas, my next planned stop, Casa de Ruiz Church St. Café, was not open. There didn’t seem to be any places for a hot breakfast at 9:30am near the plaza. Holding out for something above par, I resisted the temptation to quell my now-rumbling stomach with a breakfast burrito from Little Anita’s on the corner of Mountain and Rio Grande and headed east on Mountain into the Wells Park neighborhood.
At 821 Mountain Rd. NW, the folks behind Sister Bar have teamed up with one of Burque’s most knowledgeable third wave roasters to start Slow Burn. I’ve noticed that true coffee snobs around town have been rejoicing. Passing some young transplants out front talking about how much they like it here, I entered to the rich smell of freshly roasted beans and found myself fiending for my first caffeinated measure of the day. Prices are not listed on the sparse menu—a source of some apprehension—so I made it simple and ordered a shot of espresso. At the moment, that was Guatemala Santa Isabel coffee beans roasted in-house. It turns out that the espresso is three bucks and comes with a seltzer water back. (Due to COVID restrictions, Slow Burn is takeout only for the time being.) To my delight, the shot came out with more crema on top than I have ever seen achieved at any café here in Albuquerque. The machine calibration is clearly dialed in.
Now, while I’ve read David Eggers’ The Monk of Mokha and even did a brief stint as a (rather shit) barista in Melbourne, like, a decade back, I do not pretend to be anything even approaching a coffee sommelier. However, this nuanced shot—at once fiercely acidic (in a good way), smoky, and fruity sweet—makes clear that Slow Burn’s attention to detail has paid off. But as they aren’t serving their “all day vegan burrito” or any pastries this morning, my hunt for a hot breakfast continued.
I entertained the notion of heading back to Old Town but wasn’t about to gamble at this point, knowing that the beloved neighborhood standby Golden Crown Panaderia was just one block west of Slow Burn, at 1103 Mountain Rd. NW. Noted for their perfected biscochitos (one is traditionally included with each order), stunning pan de muerto and blue corn crusted pizza, this jewel has evolved along with the surrounding neighborhood—they still offer 35 cent bolillos (rolls), but now you can get craft beers on tap—without fully gentrifying. I settled on two fruit empanadas ($2.75 each) and a cheese twist ($3.50), along with a few simple white bread bolillos that I would fill with avocado and an aged gouda for a quick lunch later in the day.
I went in on the cheese twist first. Next, the sweet empanadas. The moro (blueberry) was intensely sweet, though a heavy ratio of fennel seed helped balance the sugar. The albaricoque (apricot) was more up my alley, with a more tempered sweetness. I left in a good mood, my stomach full and my coffee buzz still going strong. I would be remiss, however, not to note that I was a tad deflated when I discovered that there was not a single bizcochito at the bottom of my takeout bag. Another sign of the times, perhaps.
To be real with you, I am very much ready for us to be through this shitshow. I have noble reasons, of course, but it’s also so I can write a review of Golden Crown Panaderia that involves sitting on the patio with friends over slices of green chile pizza. And perhaps even a few pints. [ ]